BRAGGING RIGHTS: Karlan Grant strike settles Midlands derby
PA - Nick Potts
Karlan Grant fired West Brom back to the top of the Sky Bet Championship in a scrappy derby victory over Birmingham.
The striker’s fourth goal in four games earned a 1-0 win and lifted the Baggies above Bournemouth for 24 hours, until the Cherries won at Bristol City.
It looked for long spells like Albion, now top on goal difference, would be left frustrated after a forgettable performance until Grant struck at The Hawthorns.
They were far from impressive, yet the game’s only moment of quality condemned the Blues, who have not scored in 453 minutes, to a fifth defeat in six games.
Ivan Sunjic hit the bar for the visitors, but Lee Bowyer’s side slipped to another defeat and kept Troy Deeney on the bench.
Despite Albion boss Valerien Ismael’s desire for a high-tempo style, there was little on show during a first half where the Baggies appeared more cautious than cavalier.
Conor Townsend’s drive was tipped over by Matija Sarkic, but Albion lacked urgency and the cohesion needed to settle the bragging rights early.
Birmingham had not won a league game at The Hawthorns since 2005 and they seemed content to stifle the hosts, rather than push for an opener themselves.
Lukas Jutkiewicz’s speculative effort was easily dealt with by Sam Johnstone, and Tahith Chong attempted a couple of breaks, but Birmingham were limited as an attacking threat.
Jutkiewicz did glance a header wide from a corner, but the Blues never looked like being able to test Albion from open play.
A hopeful Grant effort roused a rapidly quietening crowd and there was a collective shrug as the uninspiring teams trudged off at the break.
The Hawthorns desperately needed a lift and Townsend sliced a half-volley well wide five minutes after the restart.
It sparked Birmingham into action and Jeremie Bela breezed past Townsend soon after to cross for Scott Hogan, but the striker could only poke well wide.
With the game opening up the Blues found some confidence and, on 65 minutes, Sunjic came close to an opener when he clipped the top of the bar from 12 yards after Hogan wriggled past Semi Ajayi.
But Albion were the ones to find the winner with 15 minutes left, when Grant collected Jake Livermore’s pass and rifled a low drive into the bottom corner from 20 yards.
Kyle Bartley almost added a second in stoppage time but was denied when Sarkic brilliantly turned his header away.
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